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, all the time

curveball0820.jpgDuring yesterday's Yankee game, there was an interesting exchange between Al Leiter and John Flaherty in the booth. It was the top of the eighth, the Yanks were leading by one run, Edwar Ramirez was on the hill facing Brandon Inge, full count, two outs.

Some background: If you aren't familiar with Edwar, his change is by far his best pitch. He struck out the previous batter on 5 consecutive change-ups. In this at bat, he got ahead of Inge 1-2, then threw two changes in the dirt to run the count full.

Then, Leiter asked Flaherty a loaded question: "What pitch do you call here Flash?"

Flaherty didn't miss a beat: "Fastball. I know you want me to say change-up, but I think you have to challenge the hitter on a 3-2 count."

Leiter laughed, then the camera zoomed in on Posada's fingers. He put down a 1, calling for the fastball. Edwar shook it off. Then he put down a 2, calling for the slider. He shook that off too. Then he wiggled 4 fingers, the change. Edwar agreed, threw the pitch and struck Inge out.

This anecdote illustrates a belief I've held since I caught my first game nearly 20 years ago. Catchers are real men, pitchers are not, for the most part. Allow me to explain.

To be a catcher you have to have a screw loose. You have to like pain, you have to like contact, you have to like to think, you have to be able to deal with fragile egos and most importantly, you have to live for confrontations. This is where the 3-2 count comes in.

From my perspective, the 3-2 count is the biggest mano-a-mano situation in baseball. You have to throw a strike, he has to swing if it's there, so you're going to rear back, throw your best fastball, and if he's better than you are, it's going to get hit. Period. If you didn't want to be in this situation you shouldn't have run the count full. I never, not once in the hundreds, if not thousands, of games I caught called anything but a fastball on a 3-2 count. To take it a step further, if a pitcher ever shook off the fastball, I immediately lost respect for him.

Don't get me wrong. I think Edwar should've thrown the change. It's his best pitch, and he's got good enough control of it to be able to throw it in that situation. It was the logical thing to do. There are plenty of pitchers who can, and should throw something off speed on a full count. Logically, I know this. Still, whenever I see it happen it turns my stomach. There's something so un-American about it.

Of course Flaherty said he would call a fastball, he was a catcher. Of course, Posada called a fastball, he is a catcher. Of course Leiter would've called something else, he was a coward pitcher.

Some day, if I have a son, I'll sit him down and tell him, "Son, if a pitcher ever shakes off his catcher on a three-two count, expect something off speed." This conversation will probably occur a few years after the, "You don't really want to pitch, do you?" conversation.
by Brian on Aug 20 2007